For more than 100 years Alberta law has mandated that all films must get a rating prior to being screened. If a theatre charges admission, the content they show must be rated beforehand.
Alberta’s rating system
Alberta’s film ratings have evolved over time to become a valuable resource for making an informed viewing choice. However, Albertans are sometimes surprised to learn we have a unique system.
- American-made movies make up a large part of Canada’s film market and they tend to advertise film ratings from their own system.
- Different provinces and territories in Canada also have their own ratings systems.
- Television and home video each have their own ratings systems as well.
Below is a broad overview of the different systems and how they compare to Alberta’s film ratings.
American film ratings
The film ratings you tend to see on home video, in television advertisements, on posters, in trailers watched online, or promoted on film websites are those given by the American ratings body, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
The American MPAA system is different from Alberta’s. The MPAA is an industry-run system that film producers can use to incorporate ratings into their marketing plans. American film producers tend to consider Canada as part of their domestic market and a film’s advertising is rarely changed for Canadian audiences.
Confusion results because some of the American MPAA ratings use the same labels as Alberta’s age-based ratings, specifically G, PG and R, but they can mean vastly different things.
How the Restricted (R) rating differs
The most confusing difference between the American MPAA system and Alberta’s rating system is the R-rating.
The MPAA R-rating means that people younger than 17 years of age must be accompanied by an adult to get into the theatre, but they can still get in. These films sometimes heavily advertise their MPAA R-rating as part of their marketing plans.
Alberta usually assigns less than 10 films per year a Restricted (R) rating, which means that no one under the age of 18 is allowed into the theatre. These types of films are likely to receive an NC-17 designation from the MPAA.
On the other hand, the MPAA assigned an R-rating to nearly half of all the films they rated in 2016.
An MPAA R-rated film could receive a rating of Restricted, 18A, 14A or even PG in Alberta.
R-Rated MPAA films in Alberta
Here are some examples of films rated R by the MPAA, compared to their ratings in Alberta:
|MPAA R-Rated Movie||Alberta rating||Rationale|
|Rated 18A for portrayals of sexual activity in a BDSM context, and for some detailed sexual language|
Nudity, Sexual Content, Violence
|Rated 14A for coarse language, portrayals of sexual activity, nudity and frequent genre violence in a comic context|
Parental Guidance (PG)Coarse Language
|Rated PG for infrequent coarse language|
Canadian film ratings
In Canada there are six rating offices that view and rate films:
- British Columbia Film Classification
- Alberta Film Classification
- Manitoba Film Classification Board
- Ontario Film Authority
- Régie du Cinema (Quebec)
- Nova Scotia Film Classification
While all regions outside of Quebec use the same age-based categories, ratings are applied according to each region’s criteria and community expectations.
Occasional differences of opinion happen when applying ratings to certain films. Provinces are under no obligation to align ratings with one another.
Television, rental and streaming
Alberta Film Classification does not rate television programs, home video or internet content.
Television program ratings are provided by individual broadcasters according to guidelines set by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.
The Canadian rating on DVDs and Blu-Rays is determined by the Motion Picture Association – Canada (MPAC). The MPAC averages the ratings of the 5 English-language Canadian film ratings offices for home video packaging.
Authorized online streaming services, such as Netflix, iTunes or CraveTV are relatively new methods of consuming media. As such, there is no universal application of ratings for these services and each company compiles ratings from sources of its own choosing.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) continues to develop policy to address the increasing amount of content delivered through streaming services.
Special permission for trailer exhibition
Alberta Film Classification doesn't reconsider ratings assigned to trailers. However, if a distributor has a business need to place a higher rated trailer on a given feature, the distributor can request Special Permission by contacting Alberta Film Classification.
Both the desired feature film and the specific version of the trailer must be rated before such a request can be considered.
Staff will consider the likelihood of audience members for the feature being disturbed or surprised by the higher rated content, and will grant Special Permission where appropriate.